Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Straitgate Farm, the subject of a 1968 Public Inquiry

Straitgate working scheme 1967
The people of Ottery St Mary and West Hill have been through all this before, in 1968.

It was the time of Harold Wilson and The Beatles, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Vietnam war. On 10 July five inches of rain fell and Ottery St Mary flooded, as did other parts of East Devon. Several people drowned. By coincidence a Public Inquiry was sitting on the same day at County Hall deciding the fate of Straitgate Farm.

We were interested to see if there was any more behind the refusal of the planning application of 1967, and it transpires that the Planning Authority was in fact in favour of the proposal to quarry Straitgate Farm. However the application was called in to be decided by the Minister, together with extensions to Blackhill and a new quarry on Colaton Raleigh Common, and a Public Inquiry was held in view of representations made by the East Devon Water Board and Devon River Authority on the adverse effects of the proposals on water supplies in the area. From the Express & Echo of 9 July 1968: "The inquiry which is being held at County Hall is expected to last a fortnight. Its outcome may decide the future of quarrying for sand and gravel in the area for many years. It concerns proposals by E.C.C. Quarries Ltd., who have existing workings at Rockbeare Quarry near Ottery St Mary, and Blackhill Quarry near Woodbury. They are seeking permission to work 134 acres at Straitgate Farm, a 325 acre extension at Blackhill and a new 385 acre quarry on Colaton Raleigh Common. Bodies represented at the inquiry include the National Parks Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Nature Conservancy, Devon County Council, Devon River Authority, the East Devon Water Board, the urban councils of Ottery St. Mary, Budleigh Salterton, and Exmouth and St. Thomas Rural Council". West Hill Ratepayers Association raised funds for a barrister to represent them at the Inquiry. Long petitions from local residents were sent to the Council opposing the application.

The story was followed virtually every day in the Express & Echo and some of the articles are below. The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food strongly objected to the Straitgate proposal and said "The quality of land is such that in a rapidly expanding urban society its retention is more than ever necessary to maintain production from a fast contracting acreage." which seems as relevant today as it did 44 years ago. "Mr Douglas Franks Q.C. for the Devon River Authority, East Devon Water Board, and others, commented today that they could not get away from the basic fact this proposal was introducing an "obnoxious industry" into an area of magnificent countryside." In the 10 July article ECC claimed to have appreciated the increased risk of flooding quarrying might cause and had proposed flood prevention lakes with overflow weirs to meet the objection of the Devon Rivers Authority from the point of view of the increased danger of flooding.

Straitgate restoration scheme 1967
Aggregate Industries in 2012 have not yet released plans of how they intend to quarry the site and mitigate the flood risk, but in 1967 the plans show how ECC intended to do it. (We are grateful to the Minerals Officer for recovering these plans from the DCC archives.) The eastern side was to be worked first and the material processed at Rockbeare. Processing plant was then to be built at Straitgate in the resultant void, with accompanying silt ponds, and the rest of the site worked. Straitgate Farmhouse was to be demolished. The company estimated the resource to be 20 million tonnes with work expected to start in the mid 1980s. The imaginative, and if we are cynical, somewhat unlikely restoration scheme proposed a 32 acre lake (with beach, boathouse and landing stage!) for flood mitigation with an overflow weir sending water running down through Cadhay Wood. ECC were "agreeable to paying a capital sum now to the Devon Rivers Authority, discounted over 50 years, in order to set up a sinking fund to provide for the cost of maintenance of these works after the company had vacated the land". ECC added "Some domestic wells at some properties in the Straitgate area might suffer a lower yield or dry up altogether as a result of the quarry development. But it would not be expensive to make mains connections to affected properties."

After the Inquiry the Inspector said: "The company has tended to under-estimate the importance of the natural storage capacity of the aquifer.... the Straitgate loss would be likely to exceed the company's estimate." (Sounds familiar!) The Inspector concluded that regardless of the "water supply considerations" with reference to Straitgate "any approval would be premature". The Minister accepted the Inspector's conclusions.

Express & Echo 1968: 
June  "Ottery to fight plan for minerals excavations"
9 July "Quarry plan for Common is probed"
9 July "A nibble is no good Q.C. tells quarry inquiry"
10 July "Quarry site to be screened by 15ft. trees"
11 July "Quarries provide jobs and trade inquiry told"
12 July "Quarry site could become playground"
18 July "Farm should not be taken for gravel"

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Negative impact on flight safety only "minor"?

In these austere times for public spending we were surprised to see yet another report just released by DCC: "Sustainability Appraisal of Site Identification" - 574 pages prepared this time by the Sustainability Appraisal Team to inform consultation with statutory consultees. Coverage of Straitgate (S7) starts on p.124 and in Annexe 18 on p.494. On p.497 with reference to Airport Safeguarding at Exeter Airport: "This is considered to have the potential to negatively impact upon the flight safety associated with Exeter Airport. In this case a minor negative effect is predicted." We are not sure that the CAA or Exeter Airport would agree that a negative impact on flight safety is ever "minor", but DCC have reached this conclusion by recommending "Mitigation: Use policy to prevent problems with bird strike for mineral sites near airports". In conjunction with the Environment Agency's objection, we suggest DCC read CAA Advice Note 3 again which stipulates that "where water features are absolutely necessary" a number of measures must be adopted one of which is "water should be as at least 4m deep", and ask Aggregate Industries how that could be feasible.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

NPPF says climate change must be taken into account

Quarrying the land at Straitgate Farm would remove groundwater storage above Ottery St Mary permanently, ad infinitum, for ever. It would disrupt the two streams that originate from the site and sustain the wetland habitats of the Ancient Woodland in Cadhay Bog and Cadhay Wood. The Environment Agency has stated that this would be "unacceptable". Removal of groundwater storage is likely to lead to more rapid run-off in times of excess rainfall, higher groundwater levels in winter and lower levels in summer.

Climate change is likely to compound these effects, and the new National Planning Policy Framework stipulates that climate change must be taken into account when preparing Local Plans. It may seem unlikely at the moment but Government predictions for the South West, assuming "medium" greenhouse gas emissions, give central estimates of 23% more rain in winter and 24% less in summer. With "high" emissions the government predicts as much as 73% more rain in winter and 58% less rain in summer. If Aggregate Industries think they can design attenuation and recharge ponds to mitigate for the effects of quarrying on flooding and Ancient Woodland respectively, despite this going against the advice of Exeter Airport whose flightpath crosses the site, then they would need to prove that these would function not only in perpetuity, but also for a range of climate change scenarios. 

Friday, 15 June 2012

HGVs impact the B3180

In a 'campaign' running until August, Aggregate Industries are transporting as-dug sand and gravel 6.5 miles from Marshbroadmoor, Rockbeare, to Blackhill Quarry for processing, as shown in the above photographs. The company has proposed the same processing scheme for Straitgate, yet further away, which would, over 10 years with 100 movements a day, equate to almost 2 million HGV miles on the B3180, through West Hill and Aylesbeare Common, and over the protected Woodbury Common. The route crosses the busy A3052 at the Halfway Inn junction, and has various stretches of road less than 5.5m wide - an HGV including mirrors is about 3m wide. This B road, a tourist route to the coast, is plainly unsuitable for such an operation. It is obviously not an easy route for the HGV drivers, and puts pressure on other road users, and upon the road condition itself. In the pictures above, it is worth asking the question: Where does the cyclist fit in? In 2010 17,000 cyclists were injured and 111 killed on UK roads; 20% of accidents involved HGVs, construction vehicles made up a disproportionate number of those HGVs.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Full Consultation Report

DCC has today released the full Consultation Report, with additional detail contained in the Appendices. Full versions of all the comments received are available here.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Answering Councillor Diviani

Councillor Diviani,  Leader of EDDC, made a number of comments at the DCC Development Management Committee meeting that we would like to address.

Cllr Diviani referred to a "temporary drop in need", yet the sand and gravel demand in Devon has been falling for over 20 years. It is not a "blip" and is actually the reverse of Exeter Airport which, citing as an analogy, he claimed went from "a million flights a year to four hundred thousand". (The CAA figures do record over a million passengers in 2007 decreasing to 709k last year but are forecast to grow to 3.4m by 2030.) Moreover, with the increased use of secondary and recycled aggregates and with the introduction of the landfill tax and aggregates levy, sand and gravel demand can be expected, at best, to recover in line with construction growth, forecast at little more than 2% pa to 2030, although this may have already been overtaken by world events and public spending cuts. In fact, DCC's use of a 10 year historic average of declining figures to forecast future requirements is likely to significantly overestimate the provision needed. Cllr Diviani went on to claim that the Council is "nowhere near making a decision on any sites whatsoever", yet DCC's Consultation specifically asked the public for views on three identified sites (N6,N8,S7) and AI would ideally like to commence quarrying at Straitgate after finishing at Venn Ottery in 2016. He then accused the respondents of being NIMBYs, which is neither conducive to public participation in local democracy nor reasonable, since it was DCC that included the Northern and Southern sites in the same Consultation and asked people which sites they supported or objected to. We do however welcome his promise that he and the Council "will look at the valid arguments people are proposing" - the reasons set out by the Environment Agency, Exeter Airport, Natural England and 384 others would, we suggest, be a good place to start.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Are there "showstoppers" for Straitgate?

The decision as to whether to include Straitgate in the new Minerals Plan has been delayed until “well into 2013”.

At the Development Management Committee meeting today, the Council conceded that "the Consultation has raised a lot of significant questions which need to be properly addressed". The Council recognises that it now needs to ascertain “whether or not there are actual showstoppers to those sites going forward”. It admitted that "the trend [for sand and gravel production] obviously seems to be downwards, which is fundamental to the amount of resources that need to be identified in the emerging Minerals Plan” and “that fundamental basis of the Plan is being seriously questioned". The Council has noted the strength of opposition to the Straitgate proposal, as well as the significance of the letters from the Environment Agency and Exeter Airport, which were recognised to have "conflicting concerns".

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Blackhill Quarry - click to enlarge
Blackhill Quarry - click to enlarge

Exeter Airport are against the introduction of any bodies of water close to and in line of their runway, and you have to look no further than Blackhill Quarry, and the bird life attracted to the ponds there, to see why. Exeter Airport pointed out to DCC that "Under the Air Navigation Law, it is a criminal offence to endanger an aircraft or its occupants by any means." Inevitably, quarrying at Straitgate would introduce bodies of water. Straitgate is directly in line and only 6000m from Exeter Aiport's runway. Aircraft flying over Straitgate on their descent land just 90 seconds later. The Civil Aviation Authority say "Over 80% of birdstrikes occur on or close to aerodromes and their operators are required to take necessary steps to ensure that the birdstrike risk is reduced to the lowest practicable level." Gulls, as in the photographs, are one of the most hazardous species in terms of the birdstrike risk to aircraft. The aviation industry has never lost a public inquiry regarding an objection if an unacceptable birdstrike risk has been predicted from a development - see Quotes.